Peripherique - Mass Spectrometer (Ghostjogger)
If I told you this was worth four bottles, and probably more, you’d probably go out and get it. If I told you the truth, which is that I’ll still be turning this little ripper on in 20 years time if I’m spared, it’s a six bottle disc and you can’t live without this one … what will you do? Look. Dave Graney would dig this. I reckon Ed Kuepper would too. And Ed Clayton Jones, Hugo Race, Charlie Marshall and a host of others.
Imagine. It’s the early 1980s, and you live in New Zealand, far, far from the tumbling new wave and alternative bands falling out of everywhere. There’s a New Zealand scene which you love, but which almost everyone outside the country is ignorant of: indeed, the question many New Zealanders get asked is, “What language do you speak?”
In common with the theory that grand isolation (physical or cultural) can lead to the most spectacular and original art emerging (apart from the French art movements a hundred years ago, think Akron, Ohio or Perth, Australia) … Michael Canning was not only a NZ music fan, but a musician, and a huge collector - he had some of the broadest musical taste I’ve ever encountered, from Can to the MC5, from Fetus to Foetus, from NZ’s extraordinary range of unique bentery to bubblegum pop.
Fast forward 30 years, the man is married, kid or kids, moved to Leeds (via a brief stint in Melbourne) where, among other things… we have the following track list: Geist/ Peripherique/ Anchorite/ Avignon
It’s an EP, not four lengthy tracks; and yes, it does seem to be Canning’s band - he plays the most number of instruments, produced and recorded it, and mixed and mastered with David Whitaker. You can pester the man on Facebook, where his handle is Michael Sea. While the band was initially founded in 1999 by Ilmars Gravis and Canning, resulting in the album “Music for Engines in Overdrive”, they all took a hiatus before regrouping with new member Richard Beech; I recommend their last release, “Guild Hall”.
The cover features four distinctly different, ambivalent yet evocative photographs. On first listen I thought the initial song, ‘Geist’, should really be the last, because you really have to be patient with it as an opening track. You’re into it fairly swiftly, however, and by the time the fourth song ends and the first starts up again, it all seems homogenous … we have become acclimatised to the world of Mass Spectrometer.
So, yes, it’s kind of jazz. But there’s plenty more going on here (quite apart from the sensation that you’ve walked into an Italian B-movie (with the Italian B-movies, I’m fairly sure the ‘B’ stood for Bust or Bosom, but that’s the ramblings of an old boy recalling his priapic teens) (see where this band take me? good god) and then down a narrow lane smelling of cats and wee and knock on a door; a little opening, a yellowy eye and we’re in, and down the stairs past the sweating hairy bouncer in his undershirt and…) And the changes, the precise swift shifts… magnificent.
Are you with me yet? This is the first track. And it takes you… now…
As for the second song, “Peripherique”, with it’s groove, its slow-burn organ and careful piano, we’ve fallen into a flickery French 196ts film noir, all flick-knives, pickpockets, clean-cut dupes and inflamed females in improbable night attire. I wouldn’t advise dancing, not unless it’s a slow dragging waltz around a large darkling room … they leave the laughter and banter in after the take. This is wonderful…
“Anchorite” is the only track with lyrics; “…this way doesn’t work anymore” is the key starting point, and Michael’s voice is tender, sensitive, strong… somewhere between a confession and a song … the horns, so well chosen. I’d be lying if I thought I could detect Michael’s specific influences here - he’s moved so far forward from when I used to be his pen pal that Mass Spectrometer are a bona fide new landscape.
Rock’n’roll? No, look, don’t get that idea. This has burned-in grooves, but they’re low down, not part of the triumphalism. And you gotta listen to this, pay attention, cos there’s so much happening… there’s precious little repetition except by way of acknowledging a theme…
“Avignon” is sheer film noir across all countries, all times. It’s a paradise of dissent, a welcome mat for the itinerant thief, a canvas of lies, truths and grooves. There are moments where you simply melt into the air, let me tell you.
Magnificent achievement. I could play “Peripherique” for hours.
(I should warn you that the T-shirt you can buy does not feature the band’s name, or indeed any words. Just circles inside a rectangle. Brilliant.)